Large Folio Manuscript Chart,[ c.1740] , 700 x 500mm, a fine chart drawn in ink and watercolour on paper, with compass rose and manuscript legend.
Manuscript Plan of the Bay of St Augustin, Madagascar, with Ms Title and Legend.
This large chart captures the bay from a southwest-oriented perspective, with the start of the Mozambique Channel on the right. The nautical information is extremely detailed, with numerous bathymetric soundings, and other aspects identified by symbols described in the legend at the top of the chart. Of great importance are the locations of recommended anchorages.
St. Augustin’s Bay was perhaps the finest natural anchorage along the Madagascar side of the Mozambique Channel. Since the passage was traversed by Europeans for the first time by Vasco da Gama, in 1498, during the first European sea voyage to India around Africa, it has been one of the most important shipping lanes in the world. While sheltered from the open Indian Ocean, it was a very dangerous passage, as it featured difficult winds and currents, along with several especially tricky nautical hazards. Beyond that, it also left ships vulnerable to attacks by pirates or vessels of enemy nations, and a lack of knowledge of the navigation ensured that one would become easy prey.
This extremely rare and excellent sea chart depicts St. Augustin’s Bay (Malagasy: Anantson̈o), an excellent natural harbour along the southwestern coast of Madagascar (immediately to the south of the modern day city of Toliara), that was for centuries a key waypoint for ships making the navigation between Europe and India, and beyond, to Southeast Asia and the Far East.
Bands of pirates established a variety of bases on Madagascar. Usually each was under the command of a single pirate referred to as a king. The primary enclaves included Ranter Bay, Saint Augustine’s Bay, Réunion Island, Mauritius, Johanna Island, Fort Dauphin, and Île Sainte Marie. The last proved very popular with pirates, and by 1700 around 1,500 of them lived there and seventeen vessels made it their home port. Within five years, the pirates were well-entrenched, so much so that European nations began to worry about the effect buccaneers like Thomas Tew, Henry Every and Captain Kidd were having on trade.